Animal personality drives individual dietary specialisation across multiple dimensions in a mammalian herbivore

Anushika, P. H. M. Herath; Katie, K. Y. Wat; Peter, B. Banks; Clare, McArthur

This figure illustrates how animal personality traits drive individual dietary breadth, diet quality and individual dietary specialisation of a mammalian herbivore.
This figure illustrates how animal personality traits drive individual dietary breadth, diet quality and individual dietary specialisation of a mammalian herbivore.

Consistent individual differences in behavior (i.e. animal personality) and in food resource use (i.e. individual dietary specialisation) both have important ecological and evolutionary implications. Animal personality should directly affect individual diet and dietary specialisation, by mediating the perceived costs and benefits associated with foraging. Uniting these two fields will be an important advance in our understanding of ecological processes and their evolutionary consequences. The predicted link between personality and dietary specialisation among individuals has never been tested empirically.

Here, we address this gap by testing whether individual diet and dietary specialisation are a function of animal personality, using a free-living mammalian herbivore, the common brushtail possum. Our results show that the breadth and quality of the realised diets of individual possums could be explained by their personality traits. Proactive (more exploratory, bold and more active) possums ate diverse and high quality diets while reactive individuals (less exploratory, shy and less active) specialised on low quality foods found in safer locations.

Our study makes a significant contribution to the field of ecology by demonstrating a link between animal personality and individual dietary specialisation across multiple dimensions. Fundamentally, personality-driven differential diet choices by individuals within the same landscape should lead to niche partitioning, reduce intraspecific competition, and alter the magnitude of influence of individuals on ecological interactions (e.g. in predator-prey or plant-herbivore interactions). From the applied perspective, this discovery has important implications for effective management of both threatened and invasive species. For example management strategies could benefit from integrating knowledge of individual traits and their ecological consequences.

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